Non-communicable diseases leading cause of deaths worldwide, says UN report
Health experts from around the world have convened in Moscow to tackle non-communicable diseases, which are the leading killer today and on the rise, according to a new report issued by the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO).
According to the first WHO Global Status Report on Non-communicable Diseases, 36.1 million people died in 2008 from conditions such as heart disease, strokes, chronic lung diseases, cancers and diabetes. Nearly 80 per cent of these deaths occurred in low- and middle-income countries.
“The rise of chronic non-communicable diseases presents an enormous challenge,” says WHO Director-General Margaret Chan, who launched the report during the Global Forum that opened today in the Russian capital.
“For some countries, it is no exaggeration to describe the situation as an impending disaster; a disaster for health, for society and most of all for national economies,” she added.
“Chronic non-communicable diseases deliver a two-punch blow to development. They cause billions of dollars in losses of national income, and they push millions of people below the poverty line, each and every year.”
Cardiovascular diseases account for most deaths attributable to non-communicable diseases, claiming 17 million lives annually, followed by cancer (7.6 million), respiratory disease (4.2 million) and diabetes (1.3 million).
These four groups of diseases account for around 80 per cent of all non-communicable diseases deaths, and share four common risk factors – tobacco use, inadequate physical activity, the harmful use of alcohol, and poor diets.
Ala Alwan, WHO Assistant Director-General for Non-communicable Diseases and Mental Health, noted that about 30 per cent of people dying from these diseases in low- and middle-income countries are under the age of 60 and are in the most productive period of life. “These premature deaths are all the more tragic because they are largely preventable,” Dr. Alwan said.
According to WHO, millions of deaths can be prevented by stronger implementation of existing measures such as stronger anti-tobacco controls and promoting healthier diets, physical activity and reducing the harmful use of alcohol.
The report launched today provides global, regional and country-specific statistics, evidence and experiences, as well as advice and recommendations for all countries and pays special attention to the countries which are hardest hit by non-communicable diseases.
It recommends raising taxes on tobacco, banning tobacco advertising and legislating to curb smoking in public places. Other measures include reducing the levels of salt in foods and stopping the inappropriate marketing of unhealthy food and non-alcoholic beverages to children.
Some 300 representatives from civil society, the private sector and academia are taking part in the Global Forum, which will provide inputs to the First Global Ministerial Conference on Healthy Lifestyles and Non-communicable Diseases Control, set to take place on Thursday and Friday in Moscow.
Both events are a precursor to the first-ever General Assembly high-level meeting on the prevention and control of non-communicable diseases, which will begin in New York on 19 September.